Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - By Ben Berkowitz - No comments

To sell or to disrupt?

A few weeks ago we received an email from a county Emergency Manager in the United States.  The unnamed manager was excited about SeeClickFix as a gateway reporting tool to emergency and crisis reporting.

His vision was that citizens would use SCF as an easy on ramp to reporting to city government for issues like potholes and graffiti in their every day comings and goings. In an emergency they would use the same tool that they had already acquainted themselves with to help out their neighbors in an earthquake, fire or other natural disaster.  Not only would they be able to quickly report issues to their government but to their community as well.

We were excited to get started in this new county with the endorsement of Emergency Management but the idea was quickly shot down in a meeting in which we demo'd the product to Public Works and other non-emergency service departments.   The other managers were upset that someone was proposing that citizens be able to give more feedback. The Emergency Services manager felt bad for our Government Relations Manager and ended the call early only to be reprimanded afterwards by his co-workers for suggesting an additional layer of accountability in the name of public safety.

Sadly, it is not always easy being a forward thinking individual that puts the interests of tax-paying citizens first when you're working inside an institution with a lot of cob-webs to dust.  Sometimes I feel like a therapist for these officials who think that what they are experiencing is unprecedented.

Of course there are always barricades in every city to open government. If there wasn't SeeClickFix would not be championing civic disruption as the first step towards open government.

So what tools are best suited for this situation? How can we assist the Emergency Manager from the outside without placing his job on the line?

1) The Sales Pitch Top Down: Politics is always a good angle though not our favorite. I might email the Mayor and pitch him on this great idea that a nameless employee had. We've found that open government has made its way into the political agenda of many municipal officials.  A campaign to increase participation and safety at the same time would be a great way to hold staffers accountable and garner public favor.


2) The Disruption Bottom Up: We could get the word out to citizens in the county through media widget embeds and community groups. When issues were reported alerts would be sent to the Public Works Director's email and residents could get their attention regardless of whether or not it was being asked for. Now the Citizens would be telling the Public Works Department what to do without invitation and the Emergency Management employee could work with the City to help adopt this new form of participation.

For the sake of this experiment I'll try both and keep you posted.


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